It takes more than a clever hashtag and well-shared selfie to win greater guest appeal and loyalty—but it is a good start. Connecting guests with the surrounding community has become essential to hotel performance—and that goes for hotels of all service levels, from suburban select-service to luxury urban destinations.
The new generation of hotel guests – millennials – has enormous spending power with estimates of roughly US$226 billion spent on travel in 2015. With hotel transactions in the Americas expected to reach US$37 billion in 2016, many hotel owners and investors are finding that now is the time to ensure properties have what it takes to stay competitive with this key demographic.
Essential to understanding this generation is the idea of creating an experience. Millennial travelers are driven not by specific on-property amenities, but by their overall experience. They crave authentic environments where they can conveniently connect with people and place, whether it’s through a device, a shared workspace, or organic access to local attractions, restaurants and taverns.
How can hotel owners – particularly those with a tight investment pro-forma – deliver without breaking the bank? The first step is to abandon any outdated preconceptions about this diverse generation’s travel preferences.
Myths, busted: Millennials are all young, and travel is siloed
Millennials are often pegged as young, hip and urban. And yet, there’s more to this generation than poster-child college students and single 20-somethings. The millennial demographic actually extends from 18-34, and includes parents, rising executives and suburbanites to boot.
Though this generation spans several stages of life, so-called ‘digital natives’ tend to share one core desire that hoteliers can be especially well suited to feed: mobility. By offering thoughtful, modern accommodations, you can give Millennials the on-the-go flexibility they love.
At the same time, millennials are traveling in droves for both work and pleasure—and upending the long-held notion that these categories of travel are like church and state. According to Expedia’s Future of Travel report, 30-and-unders report traveling 4.7 times per year on business, compared with 3.6 times per year among 30-45 year-olds, and 4.2 times per year among 46-65 year-olds. They also take more leisure trips, at 4.2 trips a year, versus 2.9 for 31-45 and 3.2 for 46-65 year-olds.
Furthermore, younger Americans and Canadians alike are far more likely to extend a business trip into a vacation than are their older cohorts: 70% of millennials are ready to take the leap and mix business and pleasure, compared with 50% for ages 31-45 and only 31% for ages 46 and up.
Takeaway? Connective, work-friendly amenities like free Wi-Fi and pleasant shared workspace can be powerful bait, even in locales that are better known for play than profit.
Playing up connective experiences
Targeted investment in connectivity and customer service can make a big difference in properties of all sizes and locations. Here are some strategies we’ve learned through experience with programs designed to attract millennial generation guests, in our own hotel portfolio:
Showcase unique character. Many hotels have experience built-in. For example, when we acquired the historic Hotel Phillips in downtown Kansas City, we knew the existing 1930s-era Art Deco lobby was itself a powerful draw. Our careful renovation plans will preserve the best of the hotel’s history, while bringing in modern amenities and technology to give guests modern luxury. Whether renovation is an option or not, a key to millennial hearts is to offer them an experience with your brand that they feel is authentic.
Connect guests to area specialties. Millennials may be the generation voted least likely to stay in their rooms—so capitalize on their thirst for unique experiences by providing a portal to the people and places that make your community special. In addition to providing recommendations and transportation options to hot nightlife, consider inviting local musicians to perform on select nights, showcasing local art in the lobby, and featuring locally made ingredients in restaurants and cafes.
We’ve also found deep success in using hotel design itself as a means of bringing the outdoor beauty, in. For example, in our hotel DoubleTree by Hilton Park City – The Yarrow in Park City, Utah, the popular restaurant offers seasonal fare, backed by floor-to-ceiling mountain views.
Wire for convenience. Millennials expect easy access to everything. Leveraging technology to streamline check-in and offering free Wi-Fi can be a game-changer for hotels that haven’t already done so. Also, don’t expect that offering an impressive conference room or well-appointed room desks alone will wow millennials. More so than older hotel patrons, this age group appreciates working in convivial environments like trendy lobby cafes featuring a mix of communal work tables and banquettes.
Inspire great hashtags. All signs point to the need for a commanding performance on social channels like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Facebook. According to a survey of millennial consumers featured in Forbes, only 1% of the 1,300 individuals surveyed said that a compelling advertisement would make them more likely to trust a brand. Meanwhile, 33% say they rely mostly on blogs before deciding to make a purchase, compared to fewer than 3% for TV news, magazines and books. And an overwhelming 87% use between two and three tech devices at least once every day.
Word to the wise: While it’s always smart to focus on the positive, there is also value in making space for the negative too—at least when it comes to customer reviews. Accenture cites a survey of college students who perceived companies with mixed reviews on Facebook as being more honest, genuine, and trustworthy than those with all-positive reviews.
The trick is to proactively respond to negative feedback, taking the feedback as opportunity to improve processes both in word and in deed.
Millennials love a good selfie because it captures a unique moment in time—and then some. Its larger power lies in its use as a tool to connect with friends and future-friends, to communicate something special about a particular person and place, and to invite dialog.
Give millennials a great platform for the connections they find meaningful, and in turn, tap into new opportunity from this economically meaningful generation for hotel owners.
This article marks the first in a monthly series touching on millennials by Sheenal Patel, co-founder and CEO of NVN Hotels, a hotel management company, as well as co-founder and principal of Arbor Lodging Partners, its hotel investment arm. Vamsi Bonthala, co-founder and principal of NVN Hotels and co-founder and CEO of Arbor Lodging Partners.